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Director: Anthony Perkins
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Diana Scarwid, Jeff Fahey, Roberta Maxwell
Length: 93 min
Label: Shout! Factory
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 & 2.0
If there’s anything that the ‘80s will be known for in the field of horror, aside from groundbreaking practical effects and the saturation of the slasher marketplace, is the widespread franchising of genre entries. While unlikely franchises spawned from Friday the 13th, Halloween and The Amityville Horror, seminal horror entries from the past had their legacies encroached upon, including Jaws, The Exorcist and Psycho, all to varying degrees of success. And while sometimes, these were creatively great for horror filmmakers honing their skills and visions, these franchises also allowed first time filmmakers, easily pressured and pushed by studios, to experiment with their skill-set on proven ground.
It’s in the latter category that Psycho III resides, as franchise star Anthony Perkins first time behind the camera brings upon the strangest and visually different addition to the story of Norman Bates. Often time feeling very ‘European’ in execution, including the giallo-esque color composition of the death scenes and the polished gloss of the cinematography, Psycho III is incredibly uneven, despite a charismatic cast and a fully perturbed Bates front-and-center. The film feels the most like a genuine horror film, doing away with the crime subplots of the previous films and embracing the insanity of a Norman Bates serial-killer film, with just the right amount of self-awareness to add a pinch of dark humor to the franchise.
Psycho III contains one of the most complicated plots of the franchise, as Norman falls in love with a suicidal nun who reminds him of his mother whilst he slashes away those who threaten his existence and steers clear from a journalist who believes he has reverted back to his murderous habits. This film is closer to the original in the sense that the narrative does not meet with Norman immediately, instead telling the story of Maureen, the excommunicated and suicidal nun, interweaving Norman’s fragile mentality in that narrative as well. The film has much more simply staged murder sequences than its predecessors and adds many more relationships outside of the Bates property, but the importance of Norman to the film (as well as his rapport with his mother) makes the title a Psycho film through and through. However, the compounding subplots and murky motivations of the characters can make the viewing experience laborious as you try to connect characters and their purposes before they become fodder for Norman’s sensibilities.The film is the most unconventional in the franchises legacy at this point, providing a completely new visual palette and point-of-view than its previous entries. If anything, Perkins establishes himself as a focused, confident director who understands the inner workings of Norman Bates and is more focused on upping the horror quotient through his own particular visual style. Through the neon-tinted cinematography from longtime genre DP Bruce Surtees, Psycho III feels more in the vein of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part II than it’s predecessor. Furthermore, the synth-laden score from Carter Burwell is more appropriate for an urban slasher than a series with the likes of Jerry Goldsmith and Bernard Hermann behind the orchestra.
No matter how different visually and narratively, the film follows in the line of the previous films in terms of the strength of the acting. Perkins, this time around, plays Norman as a much more damaged individual, more caring about not being caught or compromised rather than fighting his demons and is closer to being a traditional villain in this film than the previous films. Diana Scarwid is incredibly impressive as the Nun, Maureen, bringing an emotionally raw performance that’s rare for a slasher film, period, and plays to her constantly changing motivations with deep provocation. Jeff Fahey plays to his charismatic strengths as the sleazy and manipulative Duane, and plays the comic relief of a series that had previously been so devoid of such; his role mirrors that of Warren Toomey in Psycho II, but is much more grounded in a vagabond, bohemian mentality which may speak volumes when speaking of Norman’s own relationship to the kinkier aspects of his habits.
One of the benefits of having such a polarizing visual aesthetic is how striking this Blu-ray looks, especially thanks to SHOUT!’s superb transfer. As per usual, the grain is heavy but the definition is sharp and the colors pop out with an impressive luminescence. The contrast feels balanced and with limited digital alteration present. So, once again, a very natural, filmic presentation.
SHOUT! does a fine, if unexceptional, job with the audio transfer, as the mix is quite clear and defined but it never pops as much as the visual transfer. There’s no hiss, and the audio tracks put prominence upon the dialogue and score, and the effects sound better in this entry than they do Psycho II. But the overall audio transfer feels flat at parts and despite the lack of hiss and crackle, the mix itself is serviceable.
These extras are certainly stronger than those of Psycho II, one of the reasons primarily being the collection of interviews accrued in the set. Watch The Guitar is a wonderful featurette with the great Jeff Fahey, who reminisces on the film with a positive memory. Patsy’s Last Night is another good interview with Katt Shea, which is good for those wondering more about the acting process with Perkins but is otherwise run-of-the-mill. Mother’s Maker is a great interview with SFX artist Michael Westmore, which is both intriguing and informative, even nostalgic at times. Body Double is a bland talk with Brinke Stevens, which is skippable unless you want to learn more about body doubles. The Trailers and Still Gallery are obligatory and enjoyable for what they are. But aside from Watch The Guitar, the audio commentary with Psycho III writer Charles Edward Pogue is incredibly insightful and conversational, and is absolutely a worthy effort.
If you were a fan of Psycho II, you’ll probably find Psycho III to be a major departure from the franchise’s look and feel, but is still worth a watch. There’s much of this film that’s more fascinating than disappointing, even if the film is nowhere near on the quality grade of the previous films. It’s a bizarre endeavor, but confidently so, and SHOUT! does right by this release.